faith, life, restoration, Stories from the Island

Crossing the Water

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I was planning to tell you about June today.  But then my daughter shared her blog post with me, and she did a wonderful job of introducing Brenda.  So Brenda it is.  I would love to just reblog her post except that it would give away my identity.

So, with her permission, I am pasting it here, minus any identifying information:

Shelby and Lesley and I weren’t the only ones on the island this past weekend. We brought women with us. Women who deserved to be blessed. Women who needed to know how God felt about them and who He created them to be. Women who had stories to tell, stories that would allow us to learn from each other.

We brought former prostitutes and addicts. We brought women who used to work the streets, and women who currently go out and minister to those who still do.

Really, my mom brought them. She planned the whole retreat and listened when God told her who to invite. Perhaps I don’t know all the factors that were taken into consideration when she chose the hotel on the island as our location, but I don’t think any of us thought about the significance of crossing over water to get to an island until Brenda did.

Brenda was one of the women who came with us. When she shared her story last night, we found out she had been gang-raped at the age of fourteen, an incident that propelled her into prostitution, promiscuity, and drug use until she eventually surrendered her life to Jesus.

During introductions on the first morning Brenda said “I know that God brought us across the water to cleanse us from everything that happened over there. When we go back, it’s going to be over.”

I got chills. And I am just so thankful for everything that this weekend was, and a God who brings His children across the water.

Amen.

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faith, life, restoration, Stories from the Island

Surprised By Joy

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I guess I expected them to arrive somewhat weary and heavy-laden, downtrodden and in need of rest. Instead they were lively and strong.  Pure joy entered the welcome reception on Friday night as each woman looked me in the eye, introduced herself and shook my hand.  All except one.  One offered only her fingertips and looked me over with suspicious eyes.  “I’m not here to judge,” is what I thought.  “Welcome!” is what I said.

The women helped themselves to a spread of cheese and crackers, sliced melons, grapes, pineapple, assorted veggies and assorted dips, smoked whitefish with a beautiful array of fancy toppings and a variety of lemonades and punches.  It was just right.  Polite, jovial conversation centered around the freshness, sweetness, deliciousness of the food.

Then my daughter entered with goody bags, one for each woman, personalized with her name on it.  A handshake would no longer do.  One got up and gave me a big hug.  “Ohhh, I like hugs,” I exclaimed.  That brought several more to their feet to give hugs.  One massaged my shoulders when I mentioned that her hug felt good against my achy back.  It was going to be a good weekend.

After the reception the chicks and I walked to town for pizza while the hens stayed back to talk.  While we were gone Margaret, the one who greeted me with caution, had a seizure.  She has brain cancer and in all the excitement of the trip she forgot to take her medicine.

Over lunch on Saturday Margaret told me that she is blessed.  She had heard of the Island and had seen it on tv, but she never thought she would actually get to visit.  She told me her story – about how she became acquainted with the other women through rehab.  About how someone slipped her a drug when she was a young teen and she was hooked right off the bat.  She loved the way the burn moved through her body.  She loved the effect it had on her brain.  Some people don’t like that effect, she said, but she did.  She was proud to report that she never sold her body for drugs.  She sold things.  Things that she had stolen from Home Depot or Lowes.  Her father was a sheriff in the Chicago area so she got away with a lot as a teen.  But eventually she caught a bus to a new town so that her family wouldn’t know how addicted she was.  She left children behind.

But now she is blessed.  Blessed because she is clean.  Blessed because she and her boyfriend live in a loft – something that has always been on her bucket list.  Blessed because today she was on the Island.  Blessed because her children were cared for by someone who assured them that it wasn’t them, it was the drugs.  Blessed because she has been recently reunited with her children and they have forgiven her – have always forgiven her.

Margaret said that through it all she was aware of God’s love for her.  She would often talk to Him in the drug house, to the chagrin of the other visitors.  One day she told the drug man that she was  done.  She was going to get back with God.  Surprisingly, he directed her to a Christian rehab facility.

As I got to know the women, heard their stories and marveled at their joy, I began to really understand what Jesus meant:

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.  As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Church, as I have known it for too many years, has been mostly a gathering of Pharisees.  Oh how I long for the fellowship of those who love much.

It was such a sweet weekend.  June, who you’ll meet next, kept flying “first annual” up the flagpole hoping I would salute.  First annual it is.  If my little ministry could afford it, it would be first semiannual.  I love those women.

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faith, life

Perspective & Percentages

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My small non-profit was given a large grant.  Everyone says it is a blessing, and it is, but it is also a burden.  A heavy burden.  It is a huge responsibility to spend it wisely and well.  That is why so much disappointment oozed into yesterday’s post.

I was disappointed because we did not capture the stories of the women we invited with cinematic greatness.  Stories that could have reached beyond the confines of time and space to bless and warn and heal others.

But the mission was not just about the stories, it was also about blessing the storytellers.  In planning the retreat I had given equal weight to blessing the women with a special weekend and to capturing their stories.  But God weighted it differently.  His mission was much more about blessing the women, and even the videographer, with a memorable experience.  To Him it was all about blessing the now.

Maybe it’s because I have been sick and achy and weak since I’ve been home, maybe it’s because my expectations are always high, but I was looking at the trip as a 50% failure.

But today my daughter reminded me why we decided to hold the retreat: On that day she said “No one else is doing this.  No one is blessing these women in this way.  I think we should do it.”  So we did.  Today she said, “How many people have the means to bless these women the way we did?”  When I look at it that way, the mission was a 100% success.

We set out to bless them and they were blessed.  We wanted them to come and enjoy and they did!  They enjoyed themselves and the island and the fabulous hotel and the food 100%.  There was not a single complaint about the damp, chilly weather.  Just joy.

We wanted them to be open to learning, and they were.  They were very willing to learn and to share.  They shared stories that I never would have guessed would come from their strong, joyful mouths.

Our guests did not let me down at all.

My disappointed perspective had me feeling I had wasted the ministry’s money by inviting “helpers” who did not seem to add anything of value, who seemed to just be along for the luxurious ride.  But I am going to let go of that and trust that God did things in those people that I know nothing about.  Too much prayer went into the planning to believe otherwise.

I was thinking I had to leverage the event to reach many in order to justify using the grant money.  But God will leverage it in ways I cannot even image.  Monday morning I ran into June.  Bright, beautiful, joyful, sunny June.  She was leaving the dining room as I was going in.  She gave me a big, warm, generous good-bye hug and said, “I am going home to retrain my daughters.  I taught them wrong and now I am going to teach them right.”  Seeds were planted and they will grow.  Look what Jesus did with His twelve.

I made some rookie mistakes in the execution of our first annual retreat, but I’ve made note of them.  Next year will be better.

In the meantime, videos or not, I’ve got stories of redemption to tell.

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Stories from the Island

Tucked In

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I am back from the Island all tucked into bed with my computer, a pile of kleenex, chicken soup and Nyquil.  My brain has the same texture and color as the sky that greeted our arrival on Friday – gray, thick. foggy – and my nose is just as drizzling.

There is a lot to process and say about these last few days – observations on joyful redemption and lessons on how it is done, for starters.  But drowsiness is threatening to overtake me.  Had to cancel today’s trip to Chicago.

I’ll write more soon, friends.  Just wanted to let you know that I am home – safe and sound and sick.

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Jesus, Light, love

It’s Not My Story

It’s not what I would want people to know about me, it’s what I would want them to know about God.

I would tell them that He knows them, He loves them and He is near enough to help them.

I would tell them about the gift He gave my sister.  After the surgery to remove as much of the stage four cancer that could be removed, after everyone left her bedside and she was alone in her hospital room, suddenly gripped with overwhelming fear, He gave her peace.   Palpable peace that continues to sustain her on the toughest days of her battle.

If they were interested I might tell them about the time He sent an angel in a red sports car to simultaneously rescue me and a couple living in another state.

If I thought someone in the room needed to hear it, I would tell about the time I was falsely accused by a co-worker.  I would tell how I trusted Him when He told me to remain silent, like a lamb before its shearer, while He revealed the truth.  I would tell how brilliantly He undertook for me.

If there was a newly single mom in the room, I would share a few of the many ways He provided for me after my first husband abandoned us, leaving me to rear our two year old daughter alone on a non-profit ministry salary.  I would for sure tell the David and Goliath story of how He helped me overcome a formidable foe.

And I will tell you, dear reader, that no matter what is breaking your precious heart, no matter what is causing you fear or dread, no matter what you face today, He sees you, He knows you, He loves you.  And He is near enough to help you.

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Light, love

Unconditional Love and Blessings

Bob Goff, whom I like a whole lot, tweeted this today: “God doesn’t trade love for good conduct.”

And while Bob is 100% correct, it is important that we don’t confuse God’s love with His blessings.

I’m all for the trend to help people break free from performance-based thinking, but the pendulum may swing to the point of ripping people off.

Here’s what I mean (and forgive me for such a simplistic explanation):

Let’s say I promise to buy each of my children an ice cream cone if they clean their rooms.

And let’s say one of my precious children announces to the others that, “Mom doesn’t trade love for good conduct.”

Some of my children, secure in my love, may choose to opt out of the task.

And while it is true that all of my children would still have all of my love, only some would have my love and an ice cream cone.

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